Indonesia's largest pulp and paper company has made "moderate progress" in its two-year-old commitment to stop rainforest clearance and end conflict with local communities, according to an audit commissioned by the firm that was released yesterday.
Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) consumes millions of tonnes of timber a year to produce paper, cardboard and other products. For years, the firm and its subsidiaries were targeted by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for clearing large tracts of rainforests and peatlands, triggering fires and violent land conflicts with local villagers.
Two years ago, the firm, under intense NGO pressure and after loss of major customers, announced a sweeping forest conservation policy that pledged to source timber for its pulp mills only from plantations.
Environmentalists say that after two years, the company still has a long way to go.
APP asked respected NGO Rainforest Alliance to conduct an audit of the firm's forest policy.
The NGO's senior vice-president (forestry), Mr Richard Donovan, said APP was genuine about changing as "many building blocks essential for change" are in place.
"There is a gap that exists between some APP policy statements or commitments and field implementation," he said at the report's launch.
The eight-month audit involved nine evaluators and visits to 21 out of 38 supplier concessions to assess 15 commitments.
Indonesia has several other large pulp and paper firms, and green campaigners say some of them have been forced to improve their practices because of pressure from buyers or lenders.
According to World Resources Institute, more than 100 firms had stopped buying from APP and its suppliers prior to the zero- deforestation policy.
APP, which markets to more than 120 countries, manages with its suppliers more than 2.5 million hectares of land in Indonesia, producing 19 million tonnes of pulp, paper and packaging products and converting capacity annually.
It has ambitious expansion plans with a new pulp mill in South Sumatra.
At yesterday's launch of the 79-page report, Rainforest Alliance said APP had, among other things, halted natural forest clearance by suppliers found to be logging illegally. It had also halted new canal developments on peatland, which has high carbon stock that can burn easily and for longer, releasing high levels of smoke.
"It's simply too soon to tell the extent to which APP will follow through on its social responsibility commitments," said Rainforest Action
Network's Mr Lafcadio Cortesi in a statement. RAN is a major global NGO focused on improving the standards of the pulp and paper and palm oil sectors.
"And because the company's implementation has significant gaps, lacks transparency and is still at an early stage, there is a clear need for continued and ongoing independent monitoring and verification of the company's performance," he said.
APP's managing director of sustainability, Ms Aida Greenbury, acknowledged more work needs to be done. "We must have the courage to continually improve (the measures) as we learn lessons from implementation. The report has highlighted a number of areas which require additional focus," she said.
She plans to launch a map showing conflicts between communities and the company's activities overlaid with the location of forest fires, a problem that can cause haze.
Mr Bambang Hendroyono, director-general of forestry management in the Forestry Ministry, said while APP's move is a step in the right direction, the ministry will adopt a wait-and-see approach.
It is now conducting a review of all forestry licences and intends to release its findings later this year.